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Robin Israel December 14, 2011

Improving Student Performance with Parent Involvement


“Teacher quality is the school factor which makes the greatest impact on student achievement

and consistent exposure to effective teachers can overcome obstacles to learning and even close

achievement gaps” (Alliance for Excellent Education 2008). These factors drove the development of

the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) that sought to ensure that teachers of core subjects are

considered “highly qualified” and that poor and minority students are not taught by inexperienced or

unqualified students at higher rates than other students. “[S]tudents in poorer high schools which

primarily serve students of color are generally taught by lower-quality teachers” (Alliance for Excellent

Education 2008).

Now, with plenty of criticism of NCLB documented, new school reforms are being initiated,

and teachers continue to be held up as the main reason for low-performing schools. In Barack Obama's

2010 “Turnaround Model,” low-performing schools would be required to replace the principal and at

least half the staff, as well as implement a new instructional program. In his “Transformational Model,”

teacher effectiveness and instructional strategies must be addressed (Hart 2010).

Hearing any of this has been disheartening for a teacher at a low-income, low-performing school

to hear. At the school in which I worked, 80 percent of the teachers were considered “highly qualified”

in at least one subject and generally had master's degrees. We were not teaching out of our subject area.

We were not considered inexperienced. Our school had no library and we, the teachers, built one in a

spare conference room, on our own time and acquiring books with our own resources. As an English,

writing, reading, and human rights teacher, I had to acquire the teaching materials for my classroom out

of my own pocket. I generally bought one book and make a lot of copies, surely violating copyright

laws. I was in the classroom for seven hours a day and expected to do my grading, planning and

preparation in the last hour, or at home on my own time. It was an all-consuming job.

And that is not even considering the demography of our school.

We had a surprising number of homeless kids, kids who were separated from their families, and

families that were moving from weekly hotel to friends' houses and back to the hotel. Some kids were

traveling on buses from other sides of town, traveling three hours to get to school and hoping to get a

ride from a friend back home at the end of the day. We had a lot of sleepy kids. We had a lot of angry

kids. It's hard for a kid to learn, or to even recall what he learned in the past, if he only makes it to

school once every week or two.

To continue hearing of how low-income schools get ineffective teachers, often characterized in

the media as burnt-out and uncaring, and that is why they wind up being low-performing schools as

well, seems entirely inaccurate. Yet our school funding and our individual salaries were based on

attendance, graduation rates within a cohort, and how much students improved over the course of a

year. It was rare that we even had a student for an entire year. Well over a quarter of incoming students

had already failed to graduate with their cohort and that was why they attended our school. When I

talked with parents, they expected little from their children—some were even frustrated that their kids

were even trying to graduate when they could be working. Overwhelmingly, I noticed that kids with

parents who wanted them to do well, who returned phone calls and insisted they attend school daily,

who attended school activities and parental involvement meetings, completed more work and graduated

—sometimes they even graduated early.

My proposal, in this paper, is that parental actions and attitudes toward a child's education will

impact the student's school performance on standardized testing. I will begin with a quick literature

review and follow that with my hypotheses based around parental actions and attitudes. After that set

there will be a description of the data set and variables used. The methods and results will be presented

and the major findings will demonstrate the overall relationship between parental choices and student

performance. The concluding section discusses implications of the test results.

Literature Review

The U.S. Department of Education considers parental involvement to be an integral component

of the No Child Left Behind Act. NCLB requires every school that receives Title I funding to create, in

conjunction with parents of Title I students, a parent involvement policy that the parents must sign.

These schools must provide opportunities for parents and clear education for those parents about those

opportunities to participate in planning, review, and improvement of Title I programs in the school.

This must include attention to curriculum, assessments used by the school to measure student

achievement, and proficiency levels students are expected to meet. It also requires that parents are

offered regular opportunities to meet with teachers and participate in decisions about the education of

their children. Parents are also asked to sign a school-parent compact that outlines the school's

responsibility to provide quality education and the parents' responsibility for supporting their child's

learning including: monitoring attendance, homework completion, and television watching;

volunteering at school; participating in decisions about their children’s education, the importance of

ongoing parent-teacher communication and observing classroom activities (Wisconsin Department of

Public Instruction). There is a vast collection of school and district responsibilities that are intended to

encourage parent involvement in all these matters and more. Yet, in contrast to higher-income and

higher-performing schools in which teachers complain of parents who won't leave them alone, it is rare

to find a parent in a low-income school who takes advantage of these opportunities. The reasons for this

can vary for this lack of participation can vary widely.

The correlation is beginning to make its way to the public. In November 2011, The New York

Times Sunday Review featured an op-ed by Thomas Friedman that began to question why parents are

not being held accountable for student performance and demand that the government “stop putting the

whole burden on teachers.” His column held up the major findings from a study of the parents of

students who were taking the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), all of which

pointed to students with high scores having parents who were engaged in their education (Borgonovi

2011). Friedman explained that simply talking to a child about his school day and “showing genuine

interest in the learning that they are doing can have the same impact as hours of private tutoring”

(Friedman 2011).

It is also apparent that the way a parent chooses to be engaged with his or her child also has an

effect. The methods of interaction that have the most impact seem to be parents making sure to learn

what their students are learning so that they have the ability to talk about their child's work with the

child, as well as parents who are aware of the student's plan and actively help to guide them in choosing

classes that will be challenging to the child (Center for Public Education 2011).

The American Academy of Pediatrics also seeks to address problems in school performance by

asking parents to take a step in becoming more engaged in their children's education. Most children will

have trouble keeping up with school at some point during their junior high and high school years.

Talking to the child about his or her school experience and inquiring of problems should happen as

soon as trouble appears, “before the damage to self-esteem is irreparable or a youngster develops an

aversion to attending school” (2003). Even then, talking to the child is not enough— “[a]dolescents

sometimes reveal sides of themselves at school that they keep under wraps at home,” so it is important

to get a teacher's perspective on what is happening at school (American Academy of Pediatrics 2003).

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan admitted that “the department has done a mediocre

job of supporting parental engagement. We have been too concerned with monitoring for compliance—

and not concerned enough with improving student learning and boosting meaningful family

engagement” (U.S. Department of Education 2010). He blamed, in part, the long string of parental

involvement policies that have shown little evidence of raising student achievement. While he seemed

to want to point out that it is only obvious that engaged parents bolster student learning, attendance, and

behavior, he also pointed out that “There is surprisingly little research, however, to show what works

and doesn't work in family engagement programs to accelerate student learning” (U.S. Department of

Education 2010).


Hypothesis 1: Children whose parents volunteer at their school will score higher on

standardized achievement tests.

Hypothesis 2: Parents' educational expectations for their child will positively affect the child's

score on standardized achievement tests.

Hypothesis 3: Children whose parents regularly talk with them about their school experience

will score higher on standardized achievement tests.

These hypotheses seek to test three different kinds of parental involvement, defined by Joyce

Epstein of Johns Hopkins University: volunteering, learning at home, and communicating (Center for

Public Education 2011).

Data and Variables

This study is based on data from the Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Study 1991-2006

conducted by Alejandro Portes of Princeton University and Rubén G. Rumbaut of University of

California-Irvine. The study was published by the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social

Research, and accessed on their website. Funders for this study were the Russell Sage Foundation, the

Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and the National Science Foundation.

The purpose of this study was to look at the adaptation process of the immigrant second

generation, which is defined as United States-born children with at least one foreign-born parent. With

over 650 variables, this survey is one of the broadest available in addressing the factors that could

contribute to students’ success. Since children of immigrants represent one quarter of all school-age

children who are low-income, defined by eligibility for the National School Lunch Program (Capps

2011), this sample of children is a reasonable representation of a portion of the low-income school

population. These children are the unit of analysis to be studied. The initial survey was conducted using

face-to-face and paper and pencil interviews with a large sample of second-generation immigrant

children attending the 9th grade in public and private schools in Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, FL, and San

Diego, CA. That baseline survey was taken in 1992 and the total sample size was 5,262.

The first follow-up survey was conducted in 1995 and surveys roughly corresponded with

students expected graduation date. The purpose of this survey was, among other things, to establish the

level of education attainment and language knowledge, and to determine the proportion of children of

immigrants who dropped out before graduation. This survey was conducted with a smaller sample:

4,288 respondents were surveyed—81.5 percent of the original sample. A parent survey of 2,442

parents was also conducted at this time so that characteristics of immigrant parents and families and

their outlooks for the future could be established.

The final follow-up was conducted from 2001 to 2003. Because students were mostly beyond

secondary and post-secondary school ages and were already in the workforce and living in thirty

different states, these surveys were conducted largely by mail. This final follow-up retrieved 3,613

complete or partial responses—68.9 percent of the original sample and 84.3 percent of the first follow-


Dependent Variable

Stanford Combined Reading and Math--The dependent variable is the combined math and

reading score of high school students in Fort Lauderdale and Miami, FL, and in San Diego, CA. This is

a numeric, scaled score ranging from 0-1635 (99 th percentile) that measures the student in relation to all

others who took the same test.

Independent Variables

Parent/spouse school volunteer—This question simply asks if a parent volunteers at his or her

child's school. This is a nominal measurement of “yes” recorded as 1, and “no” recorded as 0.

Parent education expectation for Child—This question asks parents to identify their expectation

for their students' educational level and is recorded on an ordinal scale of 1 to 11. Level 1 is “Eighth

grade of less”, and level 11 is “PhD., M.D., or other advanced degree.” This variable is designed to

measure to what degree a child fulfills his or her parents' expectations.

Parent/spouse talk with Child-school experience—This question asks parents to identify how

often they talk with their child about his or her school experience, in general. The parents rank their

conversations from 1 to 4: “Not at all,” “Rarely,” “Occasionally,” or “Regularly.”

Control Variables

Five control variables were included in this analysis:

Parent-Teacher meeting attendance—Pervasive in our primary and secondary educational

culture is the assumption that regular parent-teacher communication is necessary for student success.

The survey asks, “Do you or your spouse regularly meet or talk with your child's teachers about their

academics?” This is a nominal measurement of “yes” recorded as 1, and “no” recorded as 0.

Parent/spouse-parent/teacher org—This variable addresses another of Epstein's types of parental

involvement: decision-making (Center for Public Education 2011). It asks if the parent participates in a

parent-teacher association. “Yes” is recorded as 1, and “no” is recorded as 0.

Parent/spouse talk with child-education plans—This question is intended to differentiate

between merely talking about school, as the Friedman article does, and discussing educational matters.

This, again, is a nominal measurement of “yes” recorded as 1, and “no” recorded as 0.

Rules-Maintain Grades—The question asks, specifically, if a student is required to maintain a

certain grade point average, but does not specify what average in expected. “Yes” is recorded as 1, and

“no” is recorded as 0.

Mother/female guardian at home after school—A bit old-fashioned, but this question can tell us

about how much time a parent spends with a child. This variable s recorded on an ordinal scale of 0 to

4: “Never,” “When the child was young,” “Rarely,” “Sometimes,” “Usually.”

Descriptive Statistics

Sample--The table of descriptive statistics (Table 1) reveals that completed data on this series of

surveys was rare, as out of the total initial surveys of 5,262, so much data is missing that only about a

third of the sample is complete. Useable data has been reduced to 1911 observations. Because such a

large portion of the observations is missing, replacing that data with the mean would alter the findings,

especially in those variables with fewer than 3000 observations. Additionally, even with the missing

data, the useable N is still a large enough sample to produce meaningful results.

Table 1: Descriptive Statistics






Std. Deviation

Stanford Combined Reading and Math Parent/spouse-school volunteer Parent education expectation for child Parent/spouse talk w/child-school experience Parent-Teacher meeting attendance Parent/spouse-parent/teacher org Parent/spouse talk w/child-education plans RulesMaintainGrades Mother/female guardian at home after school














































Valid N (listwise)


Range and Mean—In terms of minimum and maximum, the only interval variable is the Stanford

Combined Reading and Math score. The range is great: from 0 to 1635. The mean, however, is much

closer to the maximum, revealing a negative skew and the presence of some outliers. In the data set,

there was a small handful of responses (less than 20 in the entire sample of 4406 for this variable) with

combined scores between 0 and 800. There could be several reasons for these scores: students may not

have had the language skills to complete the test, students may have been unable to complete the test

due to emergency or sickness, students may have refused to take the test or did not understand the

importance of the test.

While ranges for independent and control variables were limited to the finite options offered,

mean did reveal a few things about these variables. Most parents expect their child to attend some level

of college and expect him or her to keep a certain grade point average. While a parent is generally not

home when the child returns from school, the parents surveyed talk with their children regularly and

tend to make it to parent-teacher conferences.

Methods and Results

As indicated by the P-value (Sig.) in table 2, the variables selected did have an effect on

students' test scores.

Table 2: ANOVA


Sum of Squares


Mean Square









.000 a









The findings in table 3 indicate that of all the items that the literature identifies as important,

two have no actual statistical significance in students' standardized test scores: talking with the child

about his or her school experience or about his or her education plans (P-values of .893 and .422,

respectively). This means that hypothesis 3 does not have evidence to support it.

Two more that came up as significant are apparently not significant in the way that they are

assumed to be. School-parent compacts usually require that a parent meet with his or her child's teacher

at least once per quarter so that the parent can keep up with the student's progress and have an

understanding of what the child is working on. According to these results, parents who regularly attend

parent-teacher conferences, on average, score 12 points lower on the combined Reading and Math

Stanford Achievement Test (p < 0.05). The problem here may actually be that teachers have a tendency

to set up more meetings with parents of children who are struggling in school. So while this may be

accurate, it might point to a need for teachers to make more consistent contact with parents of children

who are not in immediate trouble.

The other variable that had an unexpected negative relationship with student test scores was in

maintaining grades. If a student is required to keep a certain grade point average, he or she, on average,

scores 13 points lower on the combined Reading and Math Stanford Achievement Test (p < 0.05). This

result could have something to do with the fact that the data does not specify the GPA expected.

Therefore, if a student is expected to maintain a “passing” GPA of a C, he is most likely to maintain a C

average. Whereas a student who is expected to maintain an A average, will have considerably higher

expectations for herself and work to get there. This data, however, is only measuring test scores against

whether a parent has set a GPA to maintain. Alternatively, it could also reveal that students who are

expected to keep a certain GPA become discouraged and begin to place less emphasis on grades

themselves, or that they react to having such lines drawn and actively choose not work as hard.

Table 3: Coefficients a



Unstandardized Coefficients

Standardized Coefficients





Std. Error




(Constant) Parent/spouse-school volunteer Parent education expectation for child Parent/spouse talk w/child-school experience Parent-Teacher meeting attendance Parent/spouse-parent/teacher org Parent/spouse talk w/child-education plans RulesMaintainGrades Mother/female guardian at home after school






















































a. Dependent Variable: Stanford Combined Reading and Math

Children whose parents chose to be involved in decision-making activities, like a parent-teacher

association, on average, scored 10 points higher on the combined Reading and Math Stanford

Achievement Test than students whose parents were not involved in these activities (p < 0.05).

Additionally, students who volunteered at the school regularly scored, on average, almost 17 points

higher than students whose parents did not volunteer (p < .05). Surprisingly, it appears that being

generally involved in the school has more impact than being involved specifically in the child's


Children who returned home to their mothers after school scored, on average, 4 points higher on

the standardized Stanford Combined Reading and Math Achievement Test for each step up the scale. (p

< 0.05) For every higher level of education that a parent expects of his or her child, the child scores

approximately 10 points higher on the standardized Stanford Combined Reading and Math

Achievement Test (p < 0.05). This is also the variable with the single greatest impact tested here


The goodness of fit is shown in table 4 in the “Adjusted R Square” column. All these factors

combined explain approximately 8.5 percent of score variation on the standardized Stanford Combined

Reading and Math Achievement Test. While this does not sound like a lot, we must also take into

consideration what truly had significance here and then place that in perspective of this percentage.

Table 4: Model Summary



R Square

Adjusted R Square

Std. Error of the Estimate





.298 a

a. Predictors: (Constant), Mother/female guardian at home after school, Parent/spouse-school volunteer, RulesMaintainGrades, Parent education expectation for child, Parent/spouse talk w/child-education plans, Parent-Teacher meeting attendance, Parent/spouse-parent/teacher org, Parent/spouse talk w/child-school experience

Discussion and Conclusion

When Secretary Duncan suggested that the “parade of parent involvement policies” was not

creating meaningful engagement (U.S. Department of Education 2010), he may have been on the right

track, though his assertion that there was no way to measure what worked and what did not might be

contrasted here. The results of the multiple regression above reveal important characteristics of what

ultimately has an effect on student performance and what does not.

If we look collectively at the factors that did not affect student performance and those that

affected it negatively, it is apparent that all these factors are ones that require a parent to actively inquire

about a student's activities, grades, feelings, and plans. It is counter-instinctual. We tend to think that if

we are interested in the specifics, and we show our children this, they will follow up with it. They will

understand we care and understand it matters. What if this is not so? What if it is perceived as invasive?

As micro-managing? As not trusting our child to be able to make the right choices? What if it is

actually not allowing the child to make the right choices?

Then look at the items that were significant and did have impact, according to this study: high

educational expectations—but not GPA requirements; volunteering at school—but not sitting down in

an official meeting with teachers; being active in the PTA and making decisions that impact the whole

school and all students; being available after school. It is not just stated that education is important. It is

about having a presence in the child's life, both at home and at school, and living in such a way so as to

show that education is valuable to the parent.

A child understands what is important to his or her parent by the parent's actions, as well as a

parent's words. When this is clear and reinforced with regular activities and actions, a child can see

what he is working toward. He may not need to be told reminded constantly with GPA checks and

inquiries to the teacher about progress. If a strong sense of the value of education is instilled in him, he

may be likely to strive for it on his own and choose to live by the same values.

Parents must keep this in mind: simply living in a way that illustrates a value of education can

explain nearly 10 percent of standardized test score variation. This change could make a drastic change

in test performance rates of low-performing schools.

Trying to involve parents with a myriad of policies will not make a change until parents can

begin to understand the impact that education can have the lives of their children. How can we make

that happen? Further policies can be initiated that support parents and children upon entering school—

at the time of the interview—a required orientation of the value and impact education can have on a

child, no matter his economic background or his parents' education level; clarify the required parenting

classes that help bolster a child's school confidence and educational curiosity; ask parents to visit

classes with their children; set up home visits when a child is absent; assign decision-making roles to

parents. As some schools require tuition, others require parent participation in school. If these practices

are begun when a child first enters school and maintained throughout as a requirement then parents may

understand that this activity is a necessity, not just for wealthy people with extra time.

Unfortunately, there is no way to enforce it. What would happen if a parent shirked his or her

responsibility? What about my low-income students whose parents were working two or three jobs and

were still having trouble putting food on the table or were busy moving to the third house in eight

weeks—what if they could not make it? How do we truly make a change for our low-income students?

Works Cited

Alliance for Excellent Education. “Improving the Distribution of Teachers in Low-performing High

Schools.” Policy Brief April (2008). <>

Borgonovi, Francesca. “What Can Parents Do to Help Their Children Succeed in School?” PISA in

Focus. Paris, France: OECD, 2011. <>

Capps, Randy, et al. The New Demography of America's Schools: Immigration and the No Child Left

Behind Act. Washington D.C.: The Urban Institute, 2005. <

/311230_new_demography.pdf >

Center for Public Education. “Back to School: How Parent Involvement Affects Student Achievement.”

Alexandria, VA: Center for Public Education, 2011. <


Friedman, Thomas L. “How About Better Parents?” The New York Times Sunday Review 19 Nov. 2011.

14 Dec. 2011. <


Hart, Kim. “Obama Plans to Target Low-performing Schools.” The Hill 1 March 2010. 14 Dec. 2011.



U.S. Department of Education. “Department Proposes Doubling Federal Funding for Parental

Engagement.” Press release. 5 May 2010. U.S. Department of Education, 2010.


Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. “Overview of Parent Involvement Requirements in

NCLB.” ESEA Information Update August (2003). <>